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Charles Taylor, Naomi Campbell and 'blood diamonds'

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 05 August 2010

The Kimberly Process was designed to stop the trade in "blood diamonds" but one of the architects of the process, Ian Smillie, who was the first witness to give evidence in the trial of Liberian president writes why it is failing.

Naomi Campbell: Workers pan for diamonds (Getty).

Naomi Campbell's testimony at the war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor is a reminder of several things. The first is that this important trial is still going on. Taylor was indicted in 2003 for crimes committed in Sierra Leone during the 1990s. His trial, which began in The Hague in 2008, has been long and expensive, but for the hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leoneans who suffered during the conflict, it may provide a measure of justice and closure.

Campbell's appearance is also a reminder that diamonds were central to this brutal war, and to the greater tragedies and loss of life in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And it is a reminder that the problem of 'blood diamonds', or conflict diamonds, has not been resolved.

Thanks largely to the work of campaigning non-governmental organisations (NGOs), representatives of governments, the diamond industry and civil society came together to create the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) in 2000. The KPCS was nothing short of remarkable, bringing more than 75 governments into the first-ever regulatory system for rough diamonds.

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The basics were simple. No rough diamonds may leave or enter a participating country without a government certificate. A KP export certificate 'guarantees' that diamonds are clean and that the issuing government has an audit trail to where they were mined, or where they entered the country.

Unlike many international treaties, this one is backed by the force of law in each participating country. The European Union had to pass new KP-related legislation. So did Russia and Canada and Mauritius and Japan. The Kimberley Process helped to snuff out most conflict diamonds, restricting as well the use of diamonds for money laundering, drug deals and tax evasion. 

But within a few years, the Kimberley Process was in trouble. The KP has been unable to track conflict diamonds that continue to emanate from Côte d’Ivoire. Venezuela, a charter KP member, stopped issuing KP certificates in 2005, and when confronted with NGO reports of smuggling, it announced a temporary 'separation' from the Kimberley Process, promising to halt all exports while it revamped its regulatory system.

Instead, it renewed diamond mining licenses and allowed exports to bypass KP regulations. Incredibly, in accepting the fiction that Venezuela has halted exports, the Kimberley Process tacitly supports diamond smuggling – the very thing it was designed to halt. Oil and geopolitics, it seems, trump conflict prevention in Africa. 

Diamond trade
Then, in 2008, a diamond rush in Zimbabwe resulted in a massacre allegedly by the Zimbabwean armed forces of as many as 200 diamond diggers. To make matters worse, massive volumes of Zimbabwean diamonds were being smuggled out of the country.

The evidence – from reporters, NGOs and the Kimberley Process’s own team of investigators – was incontrovertible. In the process, a brave Zimbabwean activist who provided incriminating evidence to the Kimberley Process now faces trial in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's diamonds continue to flow, and calls from some governments and NGOs to make human rights explicit in KPCS standards fall on deaf ears.

In fact all meaningful reform of this now-tottering system has been blocked. One of the KP’s major design flaws was its 'consensus' decision making, which requires 100 per cent agreement before anything can go forward. As a member of the KP, Zimbabwe alone could block its own suspension. Alas, it has support from South Africa, Namibia and other Mugabe apologists who seem to have forgotten why the Kimberley process was established in the first place. 

Diamonds 'not the cause' of the Sierra Leone war
SOAS fellow Dr David Harris tells Channel 4 News that while Sierra Leone's civil war was long and brutal, the issue of diamonds needs to be kept in perspective.

"They were not the cause of the war. They were fuel for the prolongation of the war and most likely one of the reasons that it turned so mercenary and nasty. The causes of the war, however, are far, far wider in scope.

"Diamonds have been more of a curse than a blessing to the country and Charles Taylor has played a part in this conflict, but there is much more to the war than these two factors."

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There are additional problems. Most of the KP’s 'peer reviews' are simply not credible. A team failed to notice massive diamond corruption on a trip to Guinea, not least because they spent less than an hour outside the capital city. Lebanese export statistics contradict import figures. Several of the countries worst affected by diamond wars still cannot say with certainty where large volumes of the diamonds they export have been mined, the principal KP purpose.

All of this demonstrates that the Kimberley Process needs independent third party monitoring if it is to be taken seriously by anyone looking for a clean diamond. And it must penalize governments, companies and individuals who fail to comply – quickly and decisively. 

Diamonds are symbols of love and fidelity, but they are also extremely important to the economies of many poor countries, and many very poor people who mine them. A collapse of the Kimberley Process, or worse, the ongoing pretense that it is working, could see the industry return to the chaos and corruption of the 1990s, nullifying any idea of ethically produced, developmentally sound diamonds, and opening the floodgates for a return to the violence that destroyed so many lives.

Ian Smillie, an architect of the Kimberley Process, was the first witness at the trial of Charles Taylor. He is the author of Blood on the Stone: Greed Corruption and War in the Global Diamond Trade.

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